Broadway In ChicagoFinding Neverland Review – Lots of Spectacle, Not the Movie

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Bailey (Understudy), Bill Berloni and Sammy (Porthos) from the National Tour of Finding Neverland KSP Images

Musical Version of 2004 Movie

The Broadway touring production Finding Neverlandis loosely based on the Academy Award winning heartwarming film starring Johnny Depp & Kate Winslet.  It is about the famous Scottish playwright J.M Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) and his real life relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies boys who inspired him to write Peter Pan.  The boys had recently lost their father Arthur and are being raised by their mother Sylvia (daughter of writer Gerald Du Maurier).  One of the younger boys, Peter, who was a typical imaginative and vibrant boy, has gone inside a shell of grief.  Barrie gradually coaxes him out through story-telling and stirring his imagination.

Barrie, who is married to an actress, develops a love for the boys’ mother Sylvia which scandalizes the London of 1904 and drives his wife into the arms of another man.

In real life Barrie is forced to divorce her, though providing financially for her for her remaining life. The jewel that emerges from his relationship to the Llewelyn-Davies family is Peter Pan. This is all based on a somewhat glamorized and sanitized version of actual true life events, which were pretty dark.
The musical Finding Neverland provides an entertaining evening for mass audiences who love commercial theatre with a lot of spectacle. The overall design is marvelous, somewhat frenetic, and takes us into the mind of Barrie as he gathers the threads for what is to become his masterpiece about boys who never grow up, Peter Pan.

Finding Neverland Set And Staging

Scott Pask’s scenic design is one of the stars of Finding Neverland, possessing a mercurial, flexible and transformative quality mirroring Barrie’s frenetic mind and psyche.  Likewise Illusions by Paul Kieve are dazzling,one of the best being Sylvia’s departure to Neverland.. The whole production has a Disney feel and look which likely appeals to a wide commercial audience.  The only downside is that it often upstages the story. Tom Hewitt is a wonderful Charles Frohman and the original producer and responsible for bringing Peter Pan to the stage.  Although he is largely skeptical about the idea, something inside of him knows that Barrie has hit on something completely new and unique.

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Kevin Kern as JM Barrie and Tom Hewitt as Captain Hook and Cast of the National Tour of Finding Neverland Carol Rosegg

He takes the plunge and not only gives the world a great gift but saves his theatre company from financial ruin.

Christine Dwyer is a strong Sylvia bearing a physical appearance to Kate Winslet who created the role for the film.  Through no fault of her own it takes a while for us to connect with her through the often chaotic spectacle.  But when we do, the show springs to life as she and Barriewatch the opening night of Peter Pan in her bedroom when the cast gives her a special performance.  This scene encompasses all of the love she has experienced with Barrie’s arrival and the great gift he has given them.  She makes him promise to be guardian to her boys after her death, which he does until the end of his life and theirs.  They are his lost boys and family that he was never able to have in his marriage.

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The Cast of The National Tour of Finding Neverland Carol Rosegg
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Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and Kevin Kern as JM Barrie in the National Tour of Finding Neverland Carol Rosegg

Finding Neverland and Coping With Loss

At the heart of Finding Neverland is how we cope with love and loss and there are moments among the chaos in the musical that are truly touching. In fact, it is at its best when speaking and not singing. For it is the music that keeps us, the audience, at a distance, as it is often loud and shrill. The touching moments occur when the boys are with Barrie and he is just a young as they. One of the great lines in the show is when Peter looks at Barrie and says “He is the real Peter Pan. He just has my name”. Appearing as Peter in the opening night performance, Ben Krieger is very much the heart of the show and is given some of the best moments. While many think the show is about Barrie’s love for Sylvia, it is really about his love for Peter and the great gift they give to one another. Kevin Kern (Barrie) has a great chemistry with Krieger, formulated in the touching duet “When Your Feet Don’t Touch The Ground”.It is in this dark moment when Peter realizes that his mother will die, as Barrie tells him the truth that so many other adults have shielded him from. He then accepts Barrie as his father. As I watched Finding Neverland it occurred to me that much of great art springs out of love and loss, and it is this that is the heart of the Peter Pan story.Finding Neverland suggeststhat one day we will all find Neverland where we too will remain young forever and our imaginations and heart rule.

Somewhat Recommended

People who love spectacle, easy entertainment and cartoonish shows will enjoy Finding Neverland.
Not recommended for those expecting the depth and tender quality of the 2004 film. These fans of the movie will likely find this play disappointing, and often difficult to follow.

When:

Now through December 4

Where:

The Cadillac Palace
151 West Randolph
Chicago

Tickets:

$27 - $123

At the Broadway In Chicago Box Offices: 24 W. Randolph Street; 151 W. Randolph Street;  18 W. Monroe Street; 175 East Chestnut

For tickets call 800-775-2000 or visit the Broadway in Chicago website.

Photo:

Carol Rosegg

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